What does Judges 20:42 mean?
ESV: Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them. And those who came out of the cities were destroying them in their midst.
NIV: So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness, but they could not escape the battle. And the Israelites who came out of the towns cut them down there.
NASB: Therefore, they turned their backs before the men of Israel to flee in the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them while those who attacked from the cities were annihilating them in the midst of them.
CSB: They retreated before the men of Israel toward the wilderness, but the battle overtook them, and those who came out of the cities slaughtered those between them.
NLT: So they turned around and fled before the Israelites toward the wilderness. But they couldn’t escape the battle, and the people who came out of the nearby towns were also killed.
KJV: Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them.
NKJV: Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and whoever came out of the cities they destroyed in their midst.
Verse Commentary:
In a rush of despair, the fighters of Benjamin realize they are utterly defeated (Judges 20:37–41). The Israelite retreat was a ruse, meant to draw Benjamin's forces into the open. It worked, and now they are pinned between the main body of the Israelites on one side and the victorious raiders who have eliminated Gibeah on the other. The location of these cities means the Benjaminites are attacked from the north, south, and west. Their only option is to flee east, towards the wilderness.

Unfortunately for the tribe of Benjamin, they can't run fast enough. As Israeli soldiers swarm over other towns, they catch up to the main body of the Benjaminites and cut them down. The roles of pursuer and pursued have been completely reversed. At the same time, the Israelites who destroyed Gibeah and the surrounding cities charge north to cut off the only other escape route.
Verse Context:
Judges 20:35–48 starts with a summary of the final conflict between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. This is followed by details about how that result was obtained. The prior passage explained the other eleven tribes preparing for war, struggling, then eventually finding a winning strategy. Benjamin's armies are almost completely wiped out. Israel rages through the territory, destroying everything and everyone they encounter. Only 600 men remain alive out of the entire tribe.
Chapter Summary:
A massive army collected from eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel gather near the town of Gibeah. Their goal is to purge evil from the land (Judges 19:22–28). The tribe of Benjamin refuses to cooperate. Instead, they assemble an army about one-fifteenth the size of Israel's army. After two failed attempts and a promise of victory from the Lord, Israel uses a false retreat and ambush strategy to destroy Gibeah. This results in the loss of Benjamin's entire army. Israel's wrath spills over onto the territory, itself. All the people, animals, and towns in the tribe's territory are attacked, and it appears that only 600 Benjaminite men survive.
Chapter Context:
In the prior chapter, Benjaminite men of the town of Gibeah committed an act of heinous sin (Judges 19:22–25). In response, the murdered woman's husband rallies Israel with a gruesome message (Judges 19:29–30). Chapter 20 depicts how the tribe of Benjamin refuses to hand over the guilty men. Civil war ensues, resulting in near-total annihilation of their tribe. This creates a new crisis in Israel, as described in chapter 21; Israel doesn't want Benjamin to become extinct.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
Accessed 5/28/2024 1:00:49 AM
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